Nursing shortage looming

Caring for a geriatric individual is complex,” says Charlotte Noesgaard, president of the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario (RNAO), “because they usually have multiple diagnoses and don’t present the average picture.” And it’s these patients, in ever-increasing numbers, who will be most affected by a massive shortage of nurses, the national Canadian Nurses Association predicts by 2010.

“I think in Ontario we’re going to hit that brick wall sooner,” says Noesgaard. “We’re already seeing problems arise in emergency rooms, in critical care units and we’ll see them in mental health. Those are usually the three areas that show the strain when a shortage of nurses is imminent — what I call our red flags.”

Nurses are already concerned. According to a 1996 study for the Ontario Nurses Association, at least 83 per cent of members felt the quality of patient care has declined. And they want money once spent on institutional care funnelled into community care.

Noesgaard worries that, as agencies bid to provide home care services, a focus on the bottom line will mean regulated workers — registered nurses and registered practical nurses — will be replaced by unregulated, l skilled workers, to the detriment of patients.

Nurses are facing uncertainty as hospitals restructure. Certainly, their retirement security is threatened when full-time positions become part-time. They will also face heavy workloads, stress, and may be expected to supervise less knowledgeable healthcare workers. What they actually want is more healthcare input and a change from a hierarchical system that underutilizes their skills.

That’s not all: Enrollment in nursing programs is dropping; some are making career changes and won’t return to the profession; still others are taking their skills elsewhere — usually to the U.S. — where they feel needed and are better paid. Unless positive changes are made, we’ll all feel the pain of a nursing shortage.

Footnote: The RNAO is launching an advocacy campaign, calling on patients, family members, registered nurses, healthcare providers — anyone with an interest in a caring healthcare system — to come forward with the story of their experiences, good or bad. All information will be handled in strict confidence, unless permission to do otherwise is granted. Send your written account to Doris Grinspun, Executive Director, RNAO, 438 University Ave., Ste. 1600, Toronto, Ont., M5G 2K8; or fax to (416) 599-1926. You may also call her at (416) 599-1925, toll free at 1-800-268-7199 or e-mail [email protected]. Relevant newspaper items or letters to the editor may be sent to Peggi Mace, Director of Communications, at the same address and fax number.